Forty Dockworkers, Demonstrators, and Observers File Federal Lawsuit Over Injuries Sustained in Anti-War Protest at California Port

June 26, 2003 12:00 am

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OAKLAND, CA — The Oakland Police Department and the City of Oakland violated the constitutional rights of dozens of demonstrators, dockworkers, legal observers and others who were injured at a peaceful anti-war demonstration last April, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of rights groups.

“”The police use of excessive and indiscriminate force against the April 7th protestors not only resulted in serious injuries to peaceful protestors, but it sent a message designed to deter those who would engage in future vigorous demonstrations and pickets in Oakland,”” said Alan Schlosser, Legal Director of the ACLU of Northern California.

“”This case is important not just to provide a remedy for the 40 plaintiffs whose civil rights were violated, but also to re-establish the constitutional principle that the police cannot choose to impose the price of serious physical injury on persons engaging in nonviolent protest activities.””

The class action lawsuit, Local 10, ILWU vs. City of Oakland, was filed on behalf of 40 individuals by the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, Local 10, ILWU and a team of prominent civil rights attorneys including John Burris and James Chanin.

In legal papers, the groups said that their clients’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association were violated when Oakland police opened fire on a peaceful anti-war protest on April 7, 2003.

At least 40 people, including 9 dockworkers from Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), were injured with large wooden bullets, sting ball grenades and shot-filled bean bags in the most violent police response in the nation to protests against the war in Iraq. The lawsuit seeks damages for persons who were injured as well as an injunction to prevent the Oakland Police Department from repeating such practices against demonstrators in the future.

“”The police fired with bullets that were clearly labeled, ‘Do not fire directly at persons as serious injury or death may result. Ricochet baton shell approximately 3 meters in front of persons,'”” said Chanin. “”Numerous photographs taken at the scene show that the officers fired directly at demonstrators, thus, in effect, opting for a deadly force response to a non-violent demonstration. The serious injuries that resulted were clearly foreseeable from this wanton act.””

Willow Rosenthal, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was preparing to return home from the Oakland Port when police officers opened fire. As she ran away from the police line, she was shot in the back of her calf, causing severe pain, swelling and numbness. Rosenthal was later diagnosed with a serious blood clot which required surgery and a skin graft. “”I never thought I would face personal danger from the police because of my politics,”” said Rosenthal. “”But this incident has fundamentally altered that belief. I still have terrible nightmares about police officers shooting at me.””

Robert Reimar, an attorney for Local 10, ILWU said his group was “”outraged by the Oakland Police’s use of excessive force not only against demonstrators but also against observers and bystanders, including many Local 10 members.””

The peaceful demonstration was intended to focus on two shipping companies, American President Lines (APL), which was under contract with the United States military to ship weapons, and Stevedoring Services of America (SSA Marine), which had just received a contract from the U.S. government to operate Iraq’s main port of Umm Qasr.

The legal team that is representing the plaintiffs also includes Rob Remar of Leonard, Carder LLP (representing Local 10), and civil rights attorneys Bobbie Stein and Osha Neumann.

The legal complaint in the case is online at /node/35398

A statement by the ACLU’s Schlosser is online at /node/22673

A statement by Local 10, ILWU is online at /node/22674

A statement by Eric Shaw, a U.S. Marine who served in the Gulf War and was attacked at the docks, is online at /cpredirect/16891

A statement by Willow Rosenthal, who was shot in the leg at the protest, is online at /node/22675

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